José Fernández’s tragic death really hits home for Cardinals fans who witnessed his friendship with Aledmys Díaz this year and still are affected by Oscar Taveras’s untimely passing.
The sports world was shaken on Sunday morning, as many of us woke up to read about the tragic death of 24-year-old Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández in a boating accident. Fernández, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, was considered one of the best pitchers in the game and an anchor of the sport’s young core of talent.
The loss will be especially tough on Cardinals rookie shortstop Aledmys Díaz. Díaz and Fernández grew up on the same street in Santa Clara, Cuba. Díaz’s father and uncle taught Fernández how to play and how to pitch, and the two engaged in numerous pickup games as kids.
Díaz got the opportunity to face Fernández for the first time back in July, hitting a two-run homer and adding an RBI double against his childhood friend. But even after achieving success against one of the best pitchers in the game, Díaz said that he would have been content just to have the opportunity to face him, saying in his postgame interview with FOX Sports Midwest that “Even if I had struck out three times,” he would have enjoyed facing Fernández, and “he is a great competitor, so I enjoyed this game.”
"Aledmys Diaz was very happy to face off against childhood friend Jose Fernandez on Thursday. #STLCards #STLvsMIAhttps://t.co/ebQsujSFFd— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) July 29, 2016"
Perhaps the coolest achievement for the two childhood neighbors was being named to the NL All-Star team together this past July. In an All-Star break profile of the two Cuban friends, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold wrote that Díaz desperately sought Fernández’s game tapes while he was back in Cuba, and those tapes would become appointment viewing roughly a month after the games actually happened. As Goold wrote at the time:
"Since Monday afternoon, Fernandez had been talking about finding Diaz and delivering “one of the biggest hugs I’ve given in a long time.” He delivered. The embrace was part welcome, part thank you, and part amazement. Fernandez learned the game from Diaz’s uncle and father. And here they were, boyhood pals who used to trek two miles to the nearest game now 3,800 miles from home — and All-Stars."
Fernández’s death also bears a sickening resemblance to that of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident on October 26, 2014 in the Dominican Republic.
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Though he was coming off a less-than-stellar debut in the major leagues, Taveras was widely considered the top prospect in baseball and had just hit a momentous home run in the NLCS, which the Cardinals ended up losing to the San Francisco Giants.
Both deaths were motorized vehicle accidents that occurred in the early hours of the morning morning, and high speeds apparently were a factor in both accidents. Taveras was later found to have alcohol in his system, while early indications were that drugs or alcohol did not play a factor in Fernández’s death, but regardless, both tragedies robbed parents of their children and the game of two extremely talented young players.
While the 22-year-old Taveras was a player with an unbelievably high ceiling who had not yet reached his potential, whereas Fernández was already a legitimate superstar on track for a Hall of Fame career, both deaths remind anyone who enjoys baseball–or simply appreciates life–that any day could be your last, and no one is guaranteed another day on this earth.